1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > The Three Orders of Greek Architecture: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian

(Part 38)

The Three Orders of Greek Architecture: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian

As no nation has ever equalled the Egyptians in the extent and magnitude of their architectural monuments, neither have the Greeks been surpassed in the exquisite beauty of form and proportion, in the extreme simplicity and perfect harmony, which pervade every part of their structures. Unfortunately these monuments are known to us only by their ruins, for there is not a Grecian building remaining in a perfect state. In Greece proper, at least, this was not so until a comparatively recent date, viz., that of the war between the Venetians and Turks. The Parthenon itself was nearly perfect until that time, when it was shattered by an explosion of gunpowder (1687).

First in importance in Grecian architecture is the use of the three orders, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, with the peculiar mouldings, &c., connected with each. The Doric and Ionic columns, rudely drawn, appear on the early Etruscan or Greek vases. They are very slender, with large projecting capitals and with entablatures, which indicate pretty clearly copies from a construction of wood. Buildings, much as these, and all of wood, are described by Sir C. Fellows as still being constructed in Lycia. That columns of wood were used in the ancient temples of Greece we know from such notices as we have, e.g., of an old wooden column which was preserved in the temple of Juno at Olympia, as having been one of those of a former temple. But a doubt is thrown on the theory that in these light wooden structures we see the origin of the orders, by the earliest stone columns know being the most massive; and if we turn to Egypt, the mother of the arts and sciences, we shall find many things in some of the most ancient structures which may have furnished an idea of the Doric arrangements to the fertile imagination of the Greek. Allusion has already been made to the well-known facade at Beni Hassan, on the Nile, as giving us a very likely prototype of the Grecian Doric column.

Of the triglyph, the most distinguishing part of the Doric entablature, there are many indications in the early works of Upper Egypt; and in the structures of the Ptolemies they are still more evident, though it may be objected that in them the indications were borrowed from the Greeks after the Macedonian conquest. But it must be borne in mind that the Egyptian nation did not change its character, religion, or usages by the change of its governors; and the Egyptians were, through the whole period of their existence as a nation, an originating and not an imitative people; whereas, the Greek seized on a beauty wherever they found one, and made it their own by improving it. To the question, why the Greeks cannot be allowed to have originated that beautiful style of architecture which they brought to the perfection it displays in their works, it may be sufficient to answer, that it would be against the common course of events if it were so. It is remarkable that, in Greece, the earliest specimen of columnar architecture that presence itself displays the chief characteristics which are found in works of periods when learning and civilisation were at their acme in that country.

It will be convenient to give here at the outset a list of the principal Greek buildings.

Tabular List of Principal Greek Temples, &c.


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